The result of our final introduction was disappointing, to say the least, but all hope is not lost. I’m sharing this short clip so you can see how Burrito and Willy B got along while separated by mesh. It was a 45-minute love fest. And this was the morning after their conflict.
This is a good illustration of one of the core truths of chimpanzee life: severe conflicts do not necessarily preclude or end meaningful relationships. We didn’t force these two to get together like this; they were desperate to be together, and remain so. They were scared at first, sure, but within minutes they were grooming, kissing, and even sticking fingers in each other’s mouths – a sure sign of trust. They got off to a bad start during their first meeting but they were intent on reconciling. And after just a short time together, they would actually seek each other out for reassurance when they got anxious.
Still, it’s important to remember that these one-on-one meetings through the mesh do not necessarily predict how they will behave when meeting in the same enclosure again or when surrounded by other chimpanzees (such as, ahem, a band of very closely-bonded and strong-willed females). Behavior does not exist in a vacuum. These two will be influenced by many of the same factors if and when they meet again in person. And they, in turn, will influence those around them. Perhaps next time there will be a little less fear and uncertainty.
Burrito and Willy B have had difficult lives and they’ve missed out on so much. But the door has not closed all the way. In the wild, bonds between males are lifelong and central to their social lives. Maybe it’s not too late for these two.